What’s The Matter With Kansas: The Ice Harvest

This per­verse Dick­en­sian tale has the mak­ings of a mod­ern day Christ­mas clas­sic: a moral­i­ty play gone awry in almost too many ways to count, with a Scrooge who real­izes that even if he’s gen­er­ous, the bank accoun­t’s still full. There’s Christ­mas past, present and future, all rolled into one icy rain­storm as a Benz whisks Cusack from tense to tense.

If it sounds like anoth­er maudlin Christ­mas movie to you and if you’ve had enough of The Christ­mas Sto­ry to last a life­time, con­sid­er this: Cusack plays a mob lawyer involved in a “per­fect crime,” part­nered with Bil­ly Bob Thorn­ton as the mus­cle guy with moti­va­tion. Set in Kansas, we’re made aware of the con­tra­dic­tions at play; you can almost hear Sen. Brown­back chid­ing his con­gre­ga­tion, ahem, con­stituen­cy against the evils por­trayed here­in. This is the oth­er Kansas — one that was left behind as rock ’n’ roll moved out of Kansas City for Detroit, New York and Los Ange­les. The polit­i­cal ambi­gu­i­ty still allows for a cri­tique of greed and hypocrisy, some­thing Daniel Kas­man notes in his review.

Ramis returns to a famil­iar theme: small town claus­tro­pho­bia. But unlike Ground­hog Day, the dan­ger in Wichi­ta Falls is as pal­pa­ble as it is inevitable. As Cusack skirts the cops and his would-be killer, we learn how des­per­ate every­one is to escape; think of a thou­sand toast­ers dropped into a thou­sand bath­tubs in the name of exis­ten­tial free­dom. But for Cusack and his com­pa­ny, there are no easy outs.

If The Par­don­er’s Tale were a Christ­mas com­e­dy or Ground­hog Day a noir soaked in rain and bour­bon, then The Ice Har­vest would be a brown paper bag wait­ing for you Christ­mas morn­ing beneath the tree, dec­o­rat­ed with blood red ribbon.

It’s a Wonderful Life — Woody Allen’s Early Years

There’s prob­a­bly no more over­looked fig­ure in my knowl­edge of film than Woody Allen. He’s always been on my radar; I saw Sleep­er as a pre-teen and knew imme­di­ate­ly that his was a sense of humor and a sen­si­bil­i­ty I could auto­mat­i­cal­ly appre­ci­ate. Annie Hall too. Maybe I thought that said too much about me, but this could be some Car­ly Simon psy­chob­a­b­ble about over­wraught, intel­lec­tu­al narcissicists.

So it was after see­ing Man­hat­tan that I com­plete­ly fell in love with Allen as a film­mak­er. I can think of few exam­ples where some­one can not only tell a beau­ti­ful sto­ry in such a self-con­tained, self-absorbed man­ner. And it’s edu­ca­tion­al! Allen keeps no secrets about his influ­ences and his films always point to cin­e­mat­ic his­to­ry. His appre­ci­a­tion for Bergman in Man­hat­tan is not only a metaphor but also a compliment.

In fact, it’s to Allen’s cred­it that he can so light­heart­ed­ly present audi­ences with film lec­tures while telling a sto­ry at the same time. It’s good because there has to be some way for movie­go­ers who aren’t neu­rot­ic, self-loathing Jew­ish New York­ers to iden­ti­fy with his char­ac­ters. Those car­i­ca­tures are what peo­ple find fun­ny — these rei­fied dis­tor­tions some­times look like car­toons not peo­ple and not mon­sters — mak­ing it eas­i­er to come to grips with the sto­ry itself, which might be painful in ways that hit too close to home.

This has led me to buy Woody Allen Col­lec­tion Vol. 1 and digest it imme­di­ate­ly. For 49 bucks it seemed too good to pass up.